Happy Wednesday! I’m back from a one-week hiatus and like to welcome you to a new installment of Song Musings. This weekly feature takes a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for today is Sunday Papers by Joe Jackson.
Written by Jackson, Sunday Papers first appeared on the versatile English musician’s and singer-songwriter’s debut album Look Sharp!, which came out in January 1979. Combining new wave and ska, the precursor to rocksteady and reggae, the tune also became the album’s and Jackson’s overall second single in February 1979 after Is She Really Going Out With Him?.
Just like the initial release of Is She Really Going Out With Him? in October 1978, Sunday Papers didn’t make the UK Official Singles Charts and also failed to chart in other countries. Unlike Jackson’s first single, Sunday Papers wasn’t reissued, possibly a mistake. When Is She Really Going Out With Him? appeared for the second time in 1979, the single received much more attention, reaching no. 13 in the UK, and climbing to no. 8, no. 9, no. 15 and no. 18 in Ireland, Canada, Australia and the U.S., respectively.
“It started out with this riff, which is really a standard sort of rhythm and blues riff,” Jackson explained in a 2011 mini-documentary about the making of Sunday Papers, posted on YouTube channel Top 2000 a gogo. According to their description, these mini documentaries are part of an annual Dutch television programme, made by NTR for NPO3. [Jackson playing piano] “I was putting it more on the off beats, so it has almost more like a ska reggae feel to it” [continues playing piano]. “And then the bass is going…” [continues playing piano, demonstrating the bass line] Here’s how the great song sounded live in June 2022, captured at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles.
I’ve really come to dig Sunday Papers and Jackson’s debut album overall. One important reason is the terrific bass playing by Graham Maby who continues to work with Jackson to this day and can prominently be seen in the above live clip. The other members of Jackson’s original band, Gary Sanford (guitar) and David Houghton (drums), certainly were no slouches either.
Look Sharp! did better in the charts than Sunday Papers, reaching no. 40 in the UK and no. 20 in each the U.S., Canada and Australia. It performed best in New Zealand where it peaked at no. 13. The album has since secured Platinum certification in Canada (80,000 units); Gold certifications the U.S. (500,000 units) and The Netherlands (50,000 units); and Silver certification (60,000 units) in the UK. While the chart performance and sales figures are pretty modest compared to Jackson’s most successful album Night and Day (June 1982), they aren’t too shabby for a debut.
Following are some additional insights for Sunday Papers from Songfacts:
One of the few songs on Joe Jackson’s debut album Look Sharp! that isn’t about interpersonal relationships and matters of love, “Sunday Papers” is a takedown of the Fleet Street press, the UK print media that were prone to cover sensationalistic and frightening news stories to boost readership. Jackson had his battles with the press, who often categorized him in ways that weren’t to his liking (New Wave?). His message here: don’t trust everything you read, and don’t let it affect your lifestyle.
In 2011, it was revealed that the British newspaper News of the World was involved in phone hacking, and it produced quite a scandal. In 2012, we asked Joe Jackson about this event and if his song was prophetic. His reply: “I think that what applied now applied then. I think that some of the worst people just got busted, that’s all. All that stuff with the News of the World, I think it was business as usual. There are certain publications in the UK that have gone down market, that have gotten trashier. And there are some that are still at least trying to maintain a certain dignity. But yeah, I’m not a big fan of the UK media in general.”
Jackson used a reggae beat on this song, which is something The Clash, The Police, and Elvis Costello were also up to. Another Jackson song with a reggae influence is “Fool in Love.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Top 2000 a gogo; Songfacts; YouTube
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Welcome to another new music revue. All featured tracks are on albums that were released yesterday. Let’s get to it!
Scorpions/Knock ’em Dead
I trust pop metal stalwarts Scorpions need no introduction. The band was formed in 1965 in Hanover, Germany by guitarist Rudolf Schenker who remains as the original member. The current line-up also includes Klaus Meine (lead vocals, guitar), Matthias Jabs (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Paweł Mąciwoda (bass, backing vocals) and Mikkey Dee (2016), who have been members since 1969, 1978, 2003 and 2016, respectively. In 2010, the group’s 17th studio album Sting in the Tail appeared, which initially was called their farewell album and followed by their “final tour.” They subsequently changed their mind and have since released two additional records including their latest, Rock Believer. I featured the title track four weeks ago in this Best of What’sinstallment. Here’s Knock ’em Dead, a pretty typical Scorpions rocker co-written by Meine and Schenker. The band will support the album with a tour, starting in late March with a series of nine gigs in Las Vegas before continuing in Europe until early July. Other than the Vegas residency, oddly, there are currently no other scheduled U.S. dates.
Tears for Fears/Master Plan
This is starting to feel like a trip back to the ’80s. While Scorpions had been around for 16 years by the time British new wave band Tears for Fears were formed in 1981, the German rockers first entered my radar screen in 1984 with their immensely successful album Love at First Sting. At that time, Tears for Fears had released their debut The Hurting (March 1983) and scored their first hit Mad World. Their smash singles Shout and Everybody Wants to Rule the World would still be one year away. These days, Tears for Fears continue to be co-founders Roland Orzabal (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Curt Smith (bass, keyboards, vocals). The other original members Manny Elias (drums, percussion) and Ian Stanley (keyboards, backing vocals) left long ago in 1986 and 1987, respectively, and were never replaced. Orzabal and Smith broke up in 1991 (though Orzabal kept the Tears for Fears name alive) and reunited in 2010. Fast-forward to the present and The Tipping Point, the duo’s first new album in nearly 18 years. Here’s Master Plan penned by Orzabal. Like most of the other tracks, it’s more on the mellow side. It may not be as instantly memorable as Everybody Wants to Rule the World or Sowing the Seeds of Love, but I still like it!
Dashboard Confessional/The Better of Me
Florida band Dashboard Confessional were initially started in 1999 as a solo acoustic side project by singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba who at the time was the lead vocalist of emo group Further Seems Forever. Following his departure from that band, Carrabba released his solo debut The Swiss Army Romance in March 2000 under the Dashboard Confessional name. By the time of sophomore album The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most came out, Dashboard Confessional had become a trio. Apart from Carrabba, the present line-up includes Scott Schoenbeck (bass, piano, keyboards), Armon Jay (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Chris Kamrada (drums, percussion). The Better of Me is a tune from the group’s ninth and latest album All the Truth That I Can Tell. According to Apple Music, In mid-2020, Chris Carrabba got into a motorcycle accident that nearly paralyzed him—the veteran singer-songwriter was forced to relearn his instrument, unable to play guitar for more than five minutes a day before the pain hit. You would never assume this had happened to him when listening to this tune and others I sampled.
Johnny Marr/Night and Day
My last pick for this week is music by Johnny Marr from his new album Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4. The English guitarist and singer-songwriter, who first gained prominence in the ’80s as a co-founder of English indie rock band The Smiths, had previously released eight of the 16 tracks on two EPs. In December, I featured a tune from the second EP. Following the break-up of The Smiths, Marr played in various other bands, including Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. His solo debut The Messenger appeared in February 2013. Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 is Marr’s fourth solo record. Here’s one of the newly released tunes, Night and Day. Like all other tracks on the album, it was co-written by him and James Doviak, co-producer and guitarist in Marr’s band. Kind of catchy!
Last but not least, here’s a playlist of the above and some additional tunes.
Sources: Wikipedia; Scorpions website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify
I almost would have missed Joe Jackson, just like my recent Who concert. Here’s to hoping that my apparent lack of music attention doesn’t become a trend, though it would probably not hurt my wallet! 🙂 Wait, what did I want to say? Right, the British artist who they called an “angry young man” when he broke through with his studio debut Look Sharp! in January 1979. While I don’t know whether Jackson was pissed then, he certainly doesn’t look angry to me these days! Instead, the man who once sang, “Everybody wants a happy ending,” comes across as feeling very comfortable in his skin and happy to still be making music people want to hear. I suppose that’s really all you can ask for as an artist!
By the time Jackson’s ongoing Four Decade Tour registered on my radar screen, all tickets I could afford seemed to be gone, and I just wasn’t willing to throw hundreds of bucks at some greedy reseller! Then I received an email from State Theatre New Jersey, a nice midsize venue in New Brunswick, cheerfully announcing Jackson’s gig there. I thought, ‘what the hell,’ so checked out the situation one more time. And, voila, while there weren’t many seats left, I managed to get one without losing my blue shirt. Last night was showtime – and, yes, you probably already guessed it, after 40 years as a professional recording artist, Jackson continued to look sharp and proofed he’s definitely still the man!
“So, here comes a big tour,” Jackson said in an announcement last October. “We want to celebrate the fact that this is happening after 40 years – anything else, would be like sulking in a room by yourself on your own birthday party. Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982) Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers. I can’t wait. Let’s party.”
And, boy, what a party it was! In addition to singing splendid lead vocals, Jackson played keyboards – something I read he typically didn’t do during past tours. If that’s true, it was certainly great he changed his mind this time. After all, he’s a true musician and multi-instrumentalist, who spent three years in his late teens and early twenties at London’s Royal Academy of Music, studying composition, piano and percussion. During that period, Jackson also learned jazz at the Academy and in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Apart from writing pop-oriented songs in genres like punk, new wave, rock, jazz and Latin, Jackson has also composed classical music. The question really becomes what the man has NOT done musically!
Once again the notion that great musicians tend to play with other great musicians turned out to be true. Jackson’s backing band was simply top-notch! The first guy I need to call out here is Graham Maby – and yes, I’m probably bassed, I mean biased. One of my favorite bassists, Maby still has a superb tone and a great sense for rhythmic and melodic basslines. Paul McCartney is who I wanna be when I grow up, but I’d also happily settle with Maby! 🙂 Jackson’s long-time friend and musical collaborator effectively drove the groove together with excellent drummer Doug Yowell, who by the way hails from New Jersey. They really breed musicians in the Garden State – just sayin’! Last but not least, Teddy Kumpel did an outstanding job on guitar. Man, what a fucking great band! Okay, I think it’s time to get to some music, shall we?
The set kicked off with Alchemy, the closer from Jackson’s great new album Fool, released this January, and then launched right into the furious One More Time, the opener from his debut Look Sharp! – a cool 40-year jump back in time, not to mention style, and a nice illustration of the band’s versatility. I thought Kumpel’s guitar-playing shined in particular during the more rock-oriented tunes. Unfortunately, my smartphone outsmarted me at the wrong time, so I’m relying on another clip I found that cut off the beginning of Alchemy, but it still gives a good impression of the tune.
Jackson’s new album featured prominently in the show with three tracks, one of which (Alchemy) was repeated at the very end, providing nice bookends to the set. I have to say the new songs absolutely held up to his older, better known material. Here’s Fabulously Absolute, a rocker that was also released as a single. Stylistically, the tune isn’t that much different from Jackson’s first two albums. Whatever genre the man plays, he always has a great ear for catchy melodies, though he never aspired to become a pop star and never did – at least not in the traditional sense.
Next is a track from an album I don’t know well: Goin’ Downtown from Laughter And Lust, released in April 1991. The tune is co-credited to Jackson and a British singer-songwriter named Drew Barfield.
My personal highlight of the evening was a medley of three songs: A cover of Rain by The Beatles, Invisible Man and It’s Different For Girls. Jackson announced it by saying they are now playing the title track from an album called Rain (January 2008). He dryly added no such track exists, so they borrowed it, deciding to change some of the chords. Invisible Man is the opener of Rain, a fantastic song I frankly had forgotten about, which reminds me a little bit of Steely Dan. Apparently, Jackson digs the Dan; in fact, later in the show, he covered King Of The World from Countdown To Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore album from July 1973. And then there’s It’s Different For Girls, featuring Jackson’s lyrics reversing the stereotypical roles of men and women when it comes to sex and love – one of two tunes he played from I’m The Man.
His sophomore release from October 1979 remains my favorite Joe Jackson album. In fact, it was my introduction to him when I received it as a birthday present in July 1980. I own the vinyl record to this day, and it’s still in perfect shape! Instead of relying on his band, Jackson treated the audience to a solo performance of It’s Different For Girls. Okay, nuff said! This is a long clip, and the video is sometimes out of focus, but, hey, it least it’s authentic! Plus, the sound is pretty decent and, most of all, the musicianship is just outstanding. What I’m trying to say in so many words is if you dig Jackson, you should watch the friggin’ clip!
Another Jackson tune I’ve always liked is You Can’t Get What You Want. It appeared on his March 1984 gem Body And Soul blending pop, jazz and Latin. Even though the horns from the studio version are “missing” and Jackson plays their fill-ins on keyboards instead, I think the band does a beautiful job capturing the tune. Check out Kumpel’s funky guitar, which is really cool!
The last track of the regular set was I’m The Man. The title track from Jackson’s sophomore album was another highlight of the evening, which once again showed this band can rock. Not surprisingly, it brought the audience up to their feet!
The regular set was followed by a three-track encore, starting with Jackson’s biggest hit: Steppin’ Out, from the Night And Day album released in June 1982. I’m not a fan of drum machines, and that aspect has always bothered me about an otherwise great tune; but I just couldn’t resist filming it, especially after Jackson noted they’re about to do something truly shocking – playing a song almost exactly the way it appears on an album! Jackson is known for altering studio tracks for live performances, which has frustrated some of his fans in the past – a fact he acknowledged during the announcement of the tune, teasingly adding he doesn’t quite get it, since it’s so much fun changing up songs.
Next a roadie walked out on stage, carrying a small box. It was the original drum machine Jackson had used for the recording. He proudly explained he got that drum machine in 1979, adding it’s pretty much impossible to get this gear nowadays. On Night And Day, Jackson played all of the instruments by himself, except for the drum snare, which doubled the drum machine’s snare, a natural task for Yowell. Jackson also explained the other instruments on the studio recording, including a Glockenspiel that last night was played by Maby. Of course, they also had the programmed synthesizer bassline – again, something else I’m less than fond of! Kumpel took over the organ part on the keyboards, while Jackson handled the electric piano. The following clip captures some of Jackson’s introductory explanations. If you’re bit of a music nerd like I am, this footage may be for you.
Joe Jackson is definitely worthwhile seeing, and I’m glad I finally did so! The ongoing second U.S. leg of the Four Decade Tour lasts until June 1. Some of the upcoming gigs include Miami (May 24), New Orleans (May 28), Houston (May 29) and Dallas (June 1). Afterwards, Jackson is returning to Europe, with shows in Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. The last date on the current schedule is Tel Aviv, Israel on July 28.
Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Setlist.fm, YouTube
Boy, this is quite a seductive record, which I stumbled across yesterday. And it actually gets even better after you listen to it for a few times! I had completely missed Joe Jackson’s 20th studio album Fool when it was released on January 18. How foolish of me! It has all the elements I’ve liked about Jackson for many years: His great sense of melody, his versatility as a musician and good lyrics. Moreover, despite having been a heavy smoker for many years, Jackson’s voice still pretty much sounds like on his 1979 debut Look Sharp!
As is typically the case on most of his albums, all songs were written, arranged and produced by Jackson. Here is the opener Big Black Cloud. “It is a dark song but it’s also defiant, ’cause I’m saying, ‘Well I’m not giving in to this. I’m not gonna be scared,'”, Jackson toldEntertainment Weekly.
Fabulously Absolute is the album’s lead single. The tune combines rock elements that are reminiscent of Jackson’s early punk-influenced days with a new wave keyboard sound. I feel Jackson is oftentimes at his best when he mixes different styles.
Perhaps the catchiest song on the record is Friend Better. It could come right from Jackson’s 10th studio album Blaze Of Glory from April 1989. I just dig that groove!
The last tune I want to highlight is the title track Fool. In particular, I like the Latin piano solo and the bass part of longtime Jackson friend and musical collaborator Graham Maby, one of my favorite bassists. “I had this idea a while ago to write a song about the importance of humor, and I didn’t really know how to do it,” Jackson pointed out during a recent interview with People. “And then I settled on this idea of the fool, the Shakespearean fool or the jester, being kind of a superhero.I actually find it’s very important because I’m actually amazed at how humorless most people are in this business. I really am.”
Interestingly, Jackson recorded the album in Boise, Idaho, right after the end of his last tour. “I’m not the only artist to have ever said this by a long way, but when you write a bunch of songs and record an album and then go out on tour, you find after a while that it always gets better,” he explained during the above People interview. “The band’s playing better, you know the songs inside out, and everything gets better. I find I’m singing better. You wish that you could record the album now instead of back when you did.”
“So I always wanted to do a tour and then go straight in the studio, like the day after the last show. And we finally did it…We did a tour that was long enough that we got to play all the new songs a lot, but not so long that we’d be exhausted at the end of it. We toured for a month, and wherever we ended up, we were gonna go in the studio the next day. It turned out to be Boise, Idaho, which I think is great because everyone I tell says, “What? Where?!” I just think that’s great. Everyone records in L.A. and New York and so on.”
I feel that last statement is signature Joe Jackson, who has always wanted to avoid appearing to be trendy. Undoubtedly, his approach has served him very well over the past 40 years.
In addition to Maby, Jackson’s current band includes Teddy Kumpel (guitar) and Doug Yowell (drums). “One of my inspirations for this album was the band I’ve been touring with on and off for the last 3 years,” Jackson notes on this website. I’ve had many different line-ups but this one is special. I met Graham Maby when I was 18, and he’s still one of the best bassists around. Doug Yowell is a vortex of energy on drums and Teddy Kumpel is the guitarist I always wanted to work with but could never find. Like my first album, this was a band effort, recorded and mixed (brilliantly, by Pat Dillett) in about a month.”
Fool appears on earMUSIC, a division of independent German record label Edel. The album’s release coincides with Jackson’s 40th year as a recording artist, which he is currently celebrating with the Four Decade Tour. Says Jackson on his website: “Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982) Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers.”
The tour kicked off in the U.S. on February 5 in Knoxville, Tenn. The first U.S. leg wrapped up on March 9 in Phoenix. Currently, Jackson and his band are touring Europe. In May, they are coming back to the U.S. and Canada before returning to Europe again toward the end of June. The current schedule is here. After four decades, Joe Jackson still looks like he’s the man.
Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Entertainment Weekly, People, YouTube